Friday, July 5, 2019

Isle Royale 2019, Day 3: Moskey Basin to Daisy Farm, and the Mt. Ojibway Loop

Last time: A sociable day at Moskey Basin


Sunrise over Moskey Basin

Wednesday May 29, 2019: My brain knew when to wake me up, even if I didn't want to. It was a chilly night and I'd gotten to sleep after midnight. Nonetheless, I woke up out of a dead sleep at 2 am and had my breath taken away by the Milky Way hanging above a perfectly calm lake. I woke again at 5:30 am to see the pre-dawn glow lighting up the edge of the still placid basin.

Then I rolled over and went to sleep for another hour. I hadn't gotten to sleep until after midnight, you know!

Shelter #7 in the morning. Notice the patches, presumably from crazy squirrels.

When I woke up for real, the sun had risen and the trees ringing the basin reflected in the still water. A pair of ducks quietly chatted with each other, making vees in the water as they hunted for breakfast. It was a perfect morning in my favorite place on the island. I had originally planned another entire day here, and I argued back and forth with myself about my plans. But, since I had decided not to bushwhack to Mt. Saginaw today, I decided to leave for Daisy Farm where I would have more options for dayhikes.

Even taking my time with a nice hot breakfast and packing up, I was on the trail by 8:30 am. I attempted to say goodbye to everyone I'd met, and completely failed since I was apparently the first one to even be awake.

Boardwalk just outside of Moskey, with nary a moose in sight.

I crossed the swamp just outside the campground and I continued my trend of not seeing any moose at all, even in this very moosey area. The morning was cool and clear, with the promise of warming up to a pleasant 60 degrees again.

About 20 minutes outside of Moskey, I stopped at a stream that crosses the trail. Just upstream there is a mini-waterfall that I've always wanted to explore. Now that I looked and listened, I thought I could hear some more waterfalls downstream (and downhill) too. I took the time (which I'd never done on my previous 3 crossings) to lay down my pack and bushwhack up and down the stream, to see what I could see.

One of the mini-waterfalls...

The stream is absolutely made of waterfalls as it travels from a swamp down to the lakeshore. I spent a lovely half hour scrambling over the rocks and contorting myself to get just the right angle with my camera. I also managed to cramp up my left foot somehow, which dogged me all the rest of the way to Daisy Farm.

... and another

Back on the trail, I had an inspiration. I put one trekking pole away and kept the other one in my left hand. I held my camera in my right hand. I got some of the benefit from the trekking pole, and had the camera ready for whenever I wanted it. It wasn't exactly the best of both worlds, but it was good enough, and I ended up using this arrangement for the rest of the trip.

The hike back to Daisy Farm was beautiful but slow, as I limped my way along the ridges. I met a few groups heading towards Moskey, but nobody passed me heading towards Daisy Farm. I finally arrived at Daisy Farm around noon. It was again mostly empty, and this time I was lucky: I snagged the much-coveted (by me) shelter #4, with its grassy front yard.

In the shelter behind mine, I recognized the group of college-aged guys who had given off such a "unprepared, don't care" vibe on the boat. They were still working on waking up, loudly, and I considered moving to a new shelter until I was convinced that they were actually leaving. After some very desultory packing, they slouched out onto the trail well after 1 pm. None of them looked happy, but I counted all four of them alive and apparently functioning.

After all of the usual camp chores and camp naps and foot-soaking in 32.5 degree Lake Superior, my foot felt good enough to do some dayhiking. I'd left Moskey a day early because I had better day hike opportunities at Daisy Farm, and I had lucked into yet another spectacular day with clear skies and perfect temperatures -- so I made the most of it.

Hepatica was the most common wildflower along the trails.

Today's dayhike was the Mt. Ojibway loop, clockwise. The Mt. Ojibway loop is a collection of trails that make a rough 5 mile triangle, with two sides going up (and down) the Greenstone from Daisy Farm, and the 3rd side running along the ridge, leading up to Mt. Ojibway and its fire tower. I started up the western side of the triangle, which I had never hiked before. This (relatively) easy trail passes through several lovely swamps as it gently ascends the Greenstone Ridge. The views back to the south from high up along the ridge were fantastic, as were the wildflowers clustered along the streams and trail. The huge swamps I passed looked like perfect moose habitat... but they contained exactly no moose.

Boardwalk across a filling-in swamp.

The Greenstone always inspires me. I spent years hiking in the "Cliffs" back on the Keweenaw -- which are also part of the Greenstone lava flow, a perfect mirror image of its twin on Isle Royale. The open, rocky hillsides reminded me of those wonderful hikes. There is a smell in the air -- a mix of heat, mineral, and dry grass -- that represents the ridge for me. The Greenstone Ridge trail itself started out brushy, but eventually opened up to views both north and south (aided by the nearly leafless trees). I spent time enjoying rocky overlooks, scenic bends in the trail, and interesting flowers.

Alternating bands of aspens and evergreens cover ridges and valleys, north from the Greenstone

I reached the fire tower and spent an exceedingly long rest break enjoying the views from there -- much more time than the last time I was there. I peeked into an abandoned outhouse just down-slope from the tower, perhaps left over from the days when the tower was actually staffed. In general, I took my time, stopped to enjoy everything I noticed, and took full advantage of my "bonus" day. Here are some views from the trail:

Along the Greenstone Ridge trail, looking west

Looking east from the Mt. Ojibway fire tower

Sleeping Giant, Thunder Bay, from the fire tower

Looking down the Mt. Ojibway trail, towards Daisy Farm, from the fire tower

Eventually, I had no more excuses to lollygag around, so I packed up and headed back towards Daisy Farm again. I was happily traipsing along the open, rocky hillside on the steeper eastern side of the triangle when I nearly ran into two -- or maybe three -- moose munching in the scrubby growth just off the trail. I froze, but they paid me no attention, and I slowly skirted around them. A bit lower, I passed a calf hidden in some scrub who was a bit more skittish. My first three moose of the trip, all up on the Greenstone!

Moose hiding in the trees

Something had often bothered me about boardwalks on the island: Why are some of the longer boardwalks built so high -- easily 2 or 3 feet -- above the water? Shortly after my mooseling encounter, I came to what was formerly a swamp, and now was a very deep and recently dammed beaver pond. A long boardwalk stretched across it. This boardwalk used to be high and dry just like so many others, but now it was on the wrong side of the freshly minted beaver dam.

The bridge's boards were just barely above water level -- if that. It looked like some of the boards might be floating on the water, and not nailed down at all! I tentatively set foot on each board, watching ripples form in the water on each side as my weight pushed it down. Somehow, it was more nerve-wracking to walk across with the boards right at water level, rather than hovering 2 or 3 feet above the water -- not that it would have made much difference if I fell! The boards were solid, however, and I made it across with at most wet soles, one careful step at a time.

"Floating" boardwalk in a beaver pond. The beaver dam is on the right.

Strangely, at this particular dam, the beaver lodge itself was directly next to dry land near one end of the boardwalk, rather than in the middle of the pond. All that work, for not much protection!

Throughout the trip, I saw many more cases where beavers had blocked a swamp and filled it right up to the level of the walkway. The Isle Royale trail crews know what they're doing.

Along all of the island's trails, I had noticed some, uh, extreme beaver activity. Isle Royale has had a beaver boom in the last few years, because there haven't been enough wolves to keep them in check. That will likely change as the new wolves introduced this past winter start to spread out and look for easy, water-dwelling snacks. But for now, beavers are chewing down giant trees that they couldn't possibly use, like this one:

Optimistic beavers were here

The rest of the trail was lovely, winding through open glades, brushy swamps, and dark balsam forests. The trail was also much easier than the last time I had taken the Mt. Ojibway trail down the ridge into Daisy Farm (when I was hot, somewhat dehydrated, and exhausted from my first ever hike on the Greenstone). I enjoyed every bit of the hike, even Ransom Hill, which was now a pleasant and anticipated waypoint before re-entering Daisy Farm, rather than an unexpected and disheartening final obstacle.

Back at camp, I ate dinner and then spent some more time enjoying the sunny day by reading on the dock. As I sat, a park boat pulled up and dropped off an impeccably dressed ranger with a small backpack. I hadn't seen anyone this neat and tidy since the cover of my last REI catalog, and certainly not out here in the backcountry.

An older couple from Houston (whose names I never got) were enjoying the sun as well and asked the ranger some simple questions about the campground and ranger talks, to which he knew exactly none of the answers. It turned out that he was the new ranger-in-residence for Daisy Farm, and this was his first ever visit to Isle Royale. He would be learning -- a lot! -- on the job. (The next day, at 3 Mile, we all watched the free show as he drove a boat in circles and learned how to use the sirens -- "Teaching the new guy how to drive a boat" another ranger told me.) If you meet the Daisy Farm ranger this summer, go easy on him.

I was able to answer a few of the couple's questions and got to know them. They were retired teachers from Houston, who spent their time traveling around the US and camping at interesting places. This was their very first backpacking trip, and also their first trip to Isle Royale. What a combination!

That brought me to 9 pm, at which point my wonderful day of hiking and climbing the Greenstone suddenly caught up with me. I could barely keep my eyes open as I sat on the still-sunny dock. I headed back to my shelter and turned into a pumpkin before it was even dark.

Miles hiked: 3.9 + 5.1 (dayhike)
Total miles: 21.2

Wildlife seen: Snowshoe hares, white-throated Sparrows, 3 moose!

Next time: The hard way to get from Daisy Farm to Three Mile

Day 3's hike is in light blue




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